Tooth decay, an infectious and transmissible disease, is caused by Streptococcus mutans bacteria, which can be easily spread to infants during care-giving activities such as feeding and nurturing.
Parents with unhealthy teeth and gums have higher levels of this bacteria in their own mouths. Therefore it is important for pregnant women and parents to maintain good oral health themselves.
Expectant mothers can benefit from these messages:
- Baby’s teeth begin forming around the 4th week of pregnancy.
- Take your prenatal vitamins.
- Brush and floss your teeth daily. Brush for 2-3 minutes, a timer may help.
- Do not smoke.
- Eat a variety of nutritious foods. Avoid unhealthy snacks and beverages
- Visit your dentist regularly.
Once baby is born it is important to prevent or delay the transmission of Streptococcus mutans bacteria to the child. Parents can prevent transmission by following these tips:
- Don't share eating utensils.
- Don't put baby's items in your own mouth.
- Don't put baby's pacifier in your mouth to clean it.
- Don't test the temperature of baby's food with your mouth.
- Don't give "spit" baths.
Early Childhood Caries
Early childhood caries (ECC), formerly called "baby bottle tooth decay" or "nursing bottle syndrome", is tooth decay that occurs in babies or young children. It is caused by the sugars contained in breast milk, formula, cow's milk, fruit juice, Kool-aid®, fruit drinks and soda pop. If these drinks stay on the teeth for long periods of time, the sugar starts to decay the tooth. To protect your baby’s teeth from ECC:
- Clean baby’s teeth and gums daily with a wash cloth on your finger or with a small soft toothbrush.
- “Lift the Lip” at least once a month to take a look at all of the teeth. Whitish lines along the gum line could mean that decay has already started.
- Introduce liquids by cup before 6 months of age.
- Wean your baby from the bottle by 12 months of age.
- Don’t give anything other than water in a bottle or sippy cup at sleep times.
- Don’t give frequent sweet, sticky snacks, sugary drinks and juices between meals.
- Avoid sharing toothbrushes and eating utensils.
- Continue to help your child with brushing and flossing until they are able to do a thorough job themselves, which is usually until the age of 8.
- Parents should keep their own mouths healthy to delay or prevent the transmission of the decay causing Streptococcus mutans bacteria to their child.